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Comparing Dutch and British high performing managers

By André A. De Waal, Beatrice I.J.M. Van der Heijden, Christopher Selvarajah and Denny Meyer

Abstract: Comparing Dutch and British high performing managers

National cultures have a strong influence on the performance of organizations and should be taken into account when studying the traits of high performing managers. At the same time, many studies that focus upon the attributes of successful managers show that there are attributes that are similar for managers across countries. This article reports on the development of empirically validated profiles of Dutch and British high performing managers. Based on a sample of 808 Dutch and 286 British managers and using the cross-cultural framework of Excellent Leadership by Selvarajah et al., the profiles of excellent Dutch and British managers was derived. The profiles of Dutch and British high performing managers can be described by a four-dimensional factor structure consisting of Managerial behaviours, Environmental influences, Personal qualities and Organizational demands. Based on these validated profiles, the similarities and differences in attributes for managerial success between Dutch and British high performing managers can be identified.

Keywords: country or area studies, Europe, comparative organizational studies, human resource management (HRM), management effectiveness, organizational performance


National culture is related to workplace behaviors, attitudes and other organizational outcomes (see Kirkman, Lowe &Gibson, 2006, for an elaborated literature overview). Hofstede (1980: 25) defined culture as ‘the collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one human group from another.’ Merchant and Van der Stede (2003) argued that national culture has a direct effect on organizational performance because it can cause organizational members, with managers being no exception, to react differently on similar situations. Hoecklin (1995) stated that there is an intimate relationship between national culture and organizational culture; and asserted that companies cannot develop an organizational culture that does not incorporate, substantially, the prevailing cultural factors of the country in which it operates. In this respect, organizational culture has been described as ‘something to do with the people and the unique quality and style of organization’ (Kilmann, Saxton & Serpa, 1985: 11) or ‘the way we do things around here’ (Deal & Kennedy, 1982: 12).

According to Lee and Yu (2004) organizational culture has an impact on a variety of organizational processes and performance due to a wide range of social interactions among organizational members. More specifically, organizational culture is associated with different determinants of high performance, in terms of the traits, attitudes, and behaviors that people see as valuable to become performance-driven (Sparrow & Hiltrop, 1997; Iguisi, 2009).
Notwithstanding the supposed influence of national culture, some studies showed that there are certain traits contributing to managers being high performing which are the same across cultures (see for instance Dickson, Den Hartog & Mitchelson, 2003). Analogously, the outcomes of the Globe study performed by House, Wright and Aditya (1997) indicated that there are some leader attributes and behaviors that are universally accepted and considered to be effective, regardless of the specific national culture. Brodbeck et al. (2000) investigated the cultural variation of leadership prototypes across 22 European countries and found that several positive leadership attributes turned out to be the same across all these countries. In the same vein, Robie, Johnson, Nilsen and Hazucha (2001) and Lesley and Van Velsor (1998) reported that US and European managers had the same attributes with regard to effective managerial performance. Moreover, numerous studies (e.g., Dorfman et al., 1997; Boehnke, Bontis, DiStefano & DiStefano, 1999; Juhl, Kristensen, Kanji & Batley, 2000; Mehta, Larsen, Rosenbloom, Mazur & Polsa, 2001; Silverthorne, 2001; Zagersek, Jaklic & Stough, 2004; Matiċ, 2008; Bret Becton & Field, 2009) reported common attributes among effective managers in diverse cultures. Hazucha, Hezlett, Bontems-Wackens and Ronnkvist (1999) explained this similarity by stating that the resemblance of the nature of managerial work across countries has resulted in a convergence of the attributes that are associated with being successful in that managerial work. Taras, Rowney and Steel (2009) remarked that specific attributes linked to national culture might become obsolete because in today’s global village geographic boundaries are becoming less relevant. Zagersek, Jaklic and Stough (2004: 31), alike, concluded: ‘Culture does matter. But its impact is not as strong as is commonly thought. Maybe the world is actually becoming a ‘global village’ after all.’ Den Hartog, House, Hanges, Ruiz-Quintanilla, Dorfman and GLOBE Associates (1999), however, warned that although the type of leader attributes that are assumed to be important for success can be similar for different cultures, the perceived importance of these attributes may still vary across cultures. Therefore, this study focuses upon traits of high performing managers (HPMs) comparing Dutch and British ones, as the latter may be different depending upon national culture (Gerstner & Day, 1994; Gabrielson, Darling & Seristö, 2009).

Up to now, much of the research into the attributes of HPMs has been conducted using frameworks and models which were developed based on Western literature (i.e., building upon studies done in organizations situated in Western countries). Thus there is a lack of scholarly literature on non-Western research into the attributes of HPMs, mainly due to the fact that this kind of research, if undertaken, is then often not described in English. The implication of this is that potential important leadership attributes could be missing from ‘the Western models.’ In addition, globalization increasingly causes non-Western managers to transfer to Western countries to take up jobs in Western-based organizations, which could influence the attributes of HPMs both in Western and non-Western countries (Zagersek, Jaklic & Stough, 2004). It has to be noted that we are talking about leadership as a process rather than the ‘leader’ versus ‘manager’ issue (Yukl, 1989) and as such we do not make a distinction between leader and manager in our study.
In the research described in this article a leadership framework, which was developed in Asia based on a mix of Western and Eastern literature (i.e., literature on studies done in organizations based in Western as well as Asian countries), has been applied. This so-called Asian Perspectives on Excellence in Leadership (APEL) framework (Selvarajah, Duignan, Nuttman & Suppiah, 1995) can be interpreted as a framework that has a global outlook, and therefore, might be more balanced than frameworks that solely focus on Western and specifically US managers, and that ignore the concept of cultural relativism. Moreover, next to the strong US bias (see Hoppe, 2004) and despite the rapidly increasing globalization of business and industry, there is a serious lack of cross-national and cross-cultural comparative research. This lack may be partly attributed to the lack of global constructs and theories, the complexity of measuring country-level effects, and the difficulties of cross-cultural research design.

In this article, we aim to explore culture influences that might influence managerial leadership behaviors in the Netherlands (Germanic cluster; Hofstede, 1980) and the United Kingdom (Anglo-Saxon cluster; Hofstede, 1980). This approach has not been used before and, as such, adds to the scholarly work in the field of validating managers’ profiles. In addition, the attributes used in our empirical study are – in contrast to the work done by Hofstede and by House and colleagues in the GLOBE project – translated in actual behaviors, herewith further increasing the added value of our approach. This article is organized as follows. In the next section, the APEL framework that forms the basis of our study is introduced. Then, building upon the cultural frameworks from Hofstede (1980, 2001) and the ones used in the GLOBE project (House, Hanges, Javidan, Dorfman & Gupta, 2004), our research hypotheses dealing with the similarities and differences between Dutch and British HPMs are presented. Our article ends with a discussion of the outcomes, followed by an outline of the limitations of the research, recommendations for further study, and practical implications.


In order to identify the attributes of HPMs, the APEL framework of Excellent Leadership by Selvarajah et al. (1995) was chosen as it is based on a multi-cultural approach and it has been thoroughly validated in previous research (de Waal, Heijden, van der, Meyer& Selvarajah, 2012; Selvarajah, Meyer & Davuth, 2012; Selvarajah, Meyer, Jeyakumar & Donovan, 2013a, Selvarajah, Meyer & Donovan, 2013b; Shrivastava, Selvarajah, Dorasamy & Meyer, 2014). In this framework, the concept of excellence in leadership is viewed as being a combination of dimensions of behavioral values needed to create good leadership in a certain context (Selvarajah et al., 1995), and ‘excellence’ is defined as ‘surpassing others in accomplishment or achievement’ (Taormina & Selvarajah, 2005: 300). Selvarajah et al. (1995) have operationalized these behavioral dimensions by creating 94 ‘excellence in leadership’ value statements. These statements were formulated in terms of behaviors exhibited by a person in a managerial position, rather than in terms of personal traits or personal characteristics as these are difficult to observe (Selvarajah & Meyer, 2008). The statements were based upon an in-depth study of scholarly work on leadership and management excellence, both from the Western and Eastern literature.
Then, a group of researchers from six Asian countries categorized the statements within dimensions, creating a balanced international perspective. The four dimensions identified were: (1) Personal qualities; (2) Managerial behaviors; (3) Organizational demands; and (4) Environmental influences (see Selvarajah et al., 1995). Personal qualities are the personal values, skills, attitudes, behavior and qualities of an individual, emphasizing morality, religion, inter-personal relationships, and communication. Managerial behaviors cover a person’s nature, values, attitudes, actions and styles when performing managerial duties, emphasizing persuasive powers. Organizational demands refer to the ways a manager responds to the goals, objectives, structures and issues in an organization, emphasizing the importance of organizational prosperity. Environmental influences refer to external factors that influence the success of the entire organization, emphasizing the importance of scanning and evaluating the external environment in search for opportunities. Excellent leadership, being the dependent variable in the APEL framework, comprises the combination of behaviors and attitudes that are desirable for good leadership within a certain cultural context (see e.g., Selvarajah, Meyer & Davuth, 2012; Selvarajah et al., 2013a; Selvarajah, Meyer & Donovan, 2013b). The 94 ‘Excellence in leadership’ value statements were subjected to the Q-sort technique (Kerlinger, 1973) using the above described dimensions as the framework for categorization. The Q-sort was performed by Asian managers who al., 2012), we will continue our efforts regarding cross-national and cross-cultural comparative research in this field by incorporating two European samples (the Netherlands and the United Kingdom) and identifying possible (dis)similarities of the Dutch and British managers that influence leadership behaviors.


We developed hypotheses based on the framework of Selvarajah et al. (1995) and the cultural frameworks from Hofstede (1980, 2001). There has been quite some criticism on Hofstede’s scholarly work. For instance, McSweeney (2002) stated that culture is not stable over a longer period of time and that big changes such as governmental restructuring or rapid economic and population growth will have an impact on the cultural dimensions of a country. Hofstede’s investigation took place in the late 1960s and early 1970s and since then the world has changed considerably, which might have affected the original cultural dimension scores per country. McSweeney (2002) also argued that all respondents in the study of Hofstede were from one company only (IBM) and from only a few different departments, and it has not been proven that the IBM respondents were representative for their country’s culture. Javidan, House, Dorfman, Hanges and De Luquet (2006) critiqued Hofstede’s work on various aspects, among others that it was not action-based and too much focused on one company. Baskerville (2003) went one step further in her critique and stated that Hofstede never actually studied cultures but instead reviewed nations, and that as such his dimensions say more about a country and its national character then about the various cultures that can exist in one country. We however decided to use Hofstede’s dimensions in our research for two reasons: Hofstede’s model has dominated empirical cultural research in the last decennia (Harrison & McKinnon, 1999); and Hofstede’s framework is relatively simple, just four dimensions, with a clear distinction within dimensions (opposites) that have shown stability (Girlando, Anderson & Zerillo, 2004). However, we are well aware that only using Hofstede’s model might be too limited and therefore we also incorporated the results of the GLOBE research project (House et al. 2004) in our research.

The base-line assumption underlying our research is that HPMs in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom can be validly described using the APEL framework of Excellent leadership. Based on this understanding, the following hypothesis was formulated: Hypothesis 1. A four-dimensional factor structure consisting of Personal qualities, Managerial behaviors, Organizational demands, and Environmental influences is valid to describe Leadership excellence in Dutch and British HPMs.

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